Giving and Receiving Feedback

Receiving and providing feedback on performance plays a vital role in developing honesty and trust within your team. Positive feedback motivates a team and constructive feedback can refocus an individual or team and ensure that there is no bad feeling.

You may receive feedback from or provide feedback to other team members on the:

  • Progress/implementation of their work and how it impacts your work or vice versa
  • Behavior of team members and its impact on your work or vice versa
  • Ideas generated in the team/by team members

Giving and receiving feedback in the workplace is a skill which takes practice to develop.

It can be hard to give feedback, especially when your feedback contains comments about behaviour that needs improvement. When you give feedback therefore you should invite and allow comment and communicate in a non threatening and non-judgmental way to avoid a negative, defensive response.

Think about:

  • How you feel when you get negative feedback
  • How we can make the delivery of bad news a little easier on the recipient

There are many techniques for dealing with this and each person should find a way that works best for themself. However, employing the concept of direct communication, you can start the conversation in a way that will make the whole process easier.

 ‘I am concerned that the <action> caused <this result>. If we were unlucky the <unintended outcome> could have happened.’

The above is a classic ‘I Statement’. It has:

  • Emotion – in the form of ‘concern’, but it can be any emotion
  • Behaviour – an explicit identification of the problem <action>
  • Effect – details about the outcome that happened or could have happened as a result

The key point here is that this is not a direct attack on the person. From there, the discussion about the problem can start. The effectiveness of giving and receiving feedback relies on open discussion of issues raised and on reaching agreement about actions to be taken. 

You should also be aware of how your own style of behaviour impacts on other team members so that you can take action accordingly to clarify or improve a situation.

Remember, do not go on the offensive. The moment you accuse someone of anything, the immediate response any human has is to defend themselves.

How can you make yourself aware when YOUR behaviour impacts on other team members?

Receiving Feedback

When receiving feedback from a supervisor or colleague you should:

  • Keep an open mind and suspend judgment
  • Listen and repeat or paraphrase what you have heard thereby confirming you understand what the person is saying – this is called ‘active listening’
  • Remember that the person giving you feedback may be feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. Providing feedback, particularly negative feedback, on performance can be difficult
  • Focus upon the behaviours described and the facts

In summary, when you are receiving feedback about your own performance:

  • Do not treat feedback as a personal attack
  • Listen to the whole message before responding
  • If you need clarification, ask questions
  • Consider the feedback given and take responsibility for the issues raised
  • Acknowledge that you have heard and understood what was said
  • If you think the feedback is fair and accurate, acknowledge it and be prepared to clarify or explain your point of view unemotionally
  • If you think the feedback is unfair or inaccurate, ask for further clarification
  • Use the feedback given as a positive experience that can help you improve in the future

Providing Feedback

Providing appropriate feedback on performance may include: acknowledging initiative, aptitude, ideas, performance and assistance, and providing constructive criticism. Providing feedback on a specific issue requires preparation and thought. Techniques for providing feedback include:

  • Focussing on specific behaviours
  • Keeping it impersonal
  • Focussing on goals
  • Timing it well
  • Ensuring understanding
  • Making negative feedback useful
  • Tailoring feedback to fit the person

Each of these will be elaborated on below.

Focus on Specific Behaviours

Feedback should be specific rather than general. Avoid statements like ‘I’m impressed with the job you did’ or ‘You have a bad attitude’. These statements do not tell the person enough to establish on what basis you concluded that a good job had been done or what behaviour to focus on to correct the 'bad attitude'. You need to tell the person specifically why you are being complimentary or critical. For example:

 ‘Bill, I can see the extra effort you made to complete the job on time. Thanks for that.’

‘Bill, I'm concerned that you were half an hour late to yesterday’s meeting. This means the rest of us are kept waiting while I update you on what you have missed. You have been late fairly regularly now; this is an issue we should address.’

Keep it Impersonal

Feedback, particularly negative feedback, should be descriptive rather than judgmental or evaluative. No matter how upset you are, keep the feedback job-related and never criticise someone personally because of an inappropriate action. Telling people they are 'stupid', 'incompetent' or the like is unacceptable. You are criticising the behaviour, not the person. For example, rather than saying:

'I haven't received a progress report from you since I met you. You must be either lazy or incompetent'


'I am concerned that I haven't received your weekly report for four weeks, and that makes it very hard to plan ahead. Is there a problem that I need to know about?'

 ‘I’ statements: Emotion – Behaviour – Effect.

Focus on Goals

Feedback should not be given primarily to 'dump' or 'unload' on another. If you have to say something negative, make sure it is directed toward the recipient's goals. Ask yourself whom the feedback is supposed to help. If the answer is essentially, 'I've got something to get off my chest' then do not say anything. Such feedback undermines your credibility and lessens the meaning and influence of future feedback.

Time it Well

Feedback is most meaningful to a recipient when there is a very short interval between his or her behaviour and the receipt of feedback about that behaviour. If you are concerned with changing behaviour, delays in providing feedback on the undesirable actions lessen the likelihood that the feedback will be effective in bringing about the desired change. Of course, making feedback prompt merely for promptness sake can backfire if you have insufficient information, if you are angry, or if you are otherwise emotionally upset.

Never negatively criticise someone in public. This will only humiliate and upset the person. It could also lead that person either to withdraw or respond in anger and 

publicly criticise you in return. In such instances, 'well timed' may mean that you delay providing feedback until an appropriate time.

Ensure Understanding

Make sure your feedback is both concise and complete enough so that the recipient clearly and fully understands your communication. Every successful communication requires a message to be delivered, received and understood. So if feedback is to be effective, you need to ensure that the recipient understands it. Ask them to rephrase the content of your feedback to verify that it fully captures the meaning you intended.

Make Negative Feedback Useful

If the feedback is negative make sure the behaviour is controllable by the recipient. There is little value in reminding a person of a shortcoming over which he or she has no control. When negative feedback is given concerning something that is controllable by the recipient indicate specifically what can be done to improve the situation. This takes some of the sting out of the criticism and offers guidance to recipients who understand the problem but do not know how to resolve it.    

Tailor the Feedback to Fit the Person

Consider past performance and your estimate of a person’s potential when you are designing the frequency, amount and content of performance feedback. For example:

  • For high performers with potential for growth, feedback should not be so frequent that it stifles their initiative and is controlling
  • For adequate performers, very little feedback is needed because they have displayed reliable and steady behaviour in the past, know their tasks and realise what needs to be done
  • For people who are not performing, feedback should be frequent and very specific and the connection between acting on feedback and negative implications should be made explicit

In all situations, a simple ‘thanks’ for the work performed can go a long way to maintaining good morale.

Providung Feedback Upwards

As well as receiving feedback from your supervisor, you may sometimes need to provide them with feedback and constructive advice. Here are some suggestions that will help you establish this two-way feedback:

  • Ask your supervisor if he or she wants feedback from you. When asked, most are open to this. When the time comes to give the feedback, ask permission by saying something like, 'I have some feedback and a few ideas you might like to hear about.'
  • Give positive feedback and communicate what you like or respect about his or her performance
  • Whenever possible, state the feedback in positive objective, unemotional terms. Describe the situation, the behaviour or action and the impact the behaviour had on you, on others, or on the task
  • Frame your message appropriately. Consider the type of feedback that was effective in the past and learn from your successes and mistakes
  • Actively listen to the response to your feedback and thank the person for listening to the feedback

Ask for Fedback Downwards

Ask those senior people that you respect if there were any aspects of your own work at an incident that might need polishing.

Do not be afraid to check yourself from time to time.